updated 4/9/2009 7:45:09 AM ET 2009-04-09T11:45:09

A suicide bomber on foot attacked a police drug eradication unit in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing four officers and a child and wounding seven other officers, police said.

The attacker struck the patrol in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, a major drug-producing area, said Kamal Uddin, the deputy provincial police chief.

Two police vehicles and three shops were damaged in the explosion, Uddin said. He initially said five policemen were killed, but later said one of those killed was a child.

A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast in a phone call to an Associated Press reporter in southern Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the main ingredient in heroin. The Afghan opium trade accounts for 90 percent of worldwide production. The United Nations estimated last year that up to $500 million from the illegal drug trade flows to Taliban fighters and criminal groups.

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, said his troops have increased their targeting of drug operations by eight- or 10-fold in the past four months, specifically for drug lords or operations that could be tied to insurgents and insurgent funding.

McKiernan told newspaper executives gathered at The Associated Press annual meeting Monday that heroin trafficking was "a debilitating system across this country that eats away at good governance, eats away at progress and it certainly provides a funding source for the insurgency."

Two alleged female militants killed
On Wednesday, a raid by U.S. coalition troops in eastern Khost province killed four people, including two alleged female militants, and wounded another woman, the coalition said in a statement Thursday.

Yaqub Khan, the deputy provincial police chief, said the U.S. troops did not inform police about the raid.

Khan said the provincial police counterterrorism unit was investigating whether those killed were militants or civilians.

The coalition said those killed, including the women in the compound, had fired on its troops.

But a spokesman for Khost's governor, Kochai Nasery, said the women were civilians. Among the dead was a baby boy, but it was unclear what caused his death, Nasery said.

The issue of civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. and other foreign troops has caused friction between President Hamid Karzai and his government's foreign backers in the country.

Karzai has demanded many times that raids by foreign troops on Afghan villages stop, and that any operation should be done in coordination with Afghan authorities.

U.S. and NATO officials say the militants regularly operate from civilian areas, thus putting civilians in danger.

Separately, six alleged militants were killed and another detained in a coalition operation in the southern province of Kandahar late Wednesday, the coalition said.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, where thousands more U.S. troops have been ordered to join the fight by President Barack Obama to try to reverse militant gains in the last three years.

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